Thailand reopens YouTube access, but with limits

The government has agreed to unblock the popular video-sharing site after a flap involving videos mocking its king, saying YouTube has agreed in turn to block videos flagged as illegal.

Thailand has lifted a ban on YouTube about five months after videos mocking King Bhumibol Adulyadej prompted the military-installed government to block domestic Web surfers' access to the site.

But there's a catch, of course.

Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit Thai Royal Embassy

In a Friday interview with the Financial Times, the Southeast Asian nation's information and technology minister attributed the restoration to an agreement that the Google-owned service will block any clips that the government flags as illegal. Thai law, among other things, forbids mocking monarchs, an act punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

According to the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, Thai authorities have a record of conducting round-the-clock surveillance of Internet content and instructing Internet service providers to blacklist sites that present contrarian political messages.

The situation supplies yet another example of the balancing act that American Internet companies must attempt when doing business in countries with stringent restrictions on free speech--and that has earned them repeated scoldings from those who believe their business decisions are too complicit with the bidding of oppressive regimes. Yahoo, for instance, is now fighting a lawsuit filed by two Chinese journalists who accused the Web portal of "willingly" coughing up information about their online political writing to the Chinese government, which works hard to suppress such expression.

Some leading companies have urged the U.S. government to help, rather than leaving moral judgments entirely up to the private sector. Google, for its part, has suggested treating censorship as a trade barrier and writing anticensorship pledges into free-trade agreements.

Update at 11:30 a.m. PDT: In response to my query, a YouTube representative sent the following statement: "We are pleased to hear that access to YouTube in Thailand has been reinstated. We appreciate the constructive dialogue we have had with the ICT Ministry. YouTube remains committed to removing videos when they violate our content policies, and we will continue to work closely with authorities in Thailand."

Update at 11:50 p.m. PDT: When I asked how YouTube would go about complying with the Thai government's requests--say, whether it would immediately pull down content authorities deemed illegal or inject its own analysis into the process--the YouTube representative had this to say: "We always welcome constructive discussions with local governments around the world on similar issues.We are committed to addressing these questions in ways that both respect relevant laws and cultural concerns and are consistent with our global content policies."

 

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